Tuesday, December 22, 2015

7 parenting secrets of highly effective Israeli mamas


Are you an Israeli mama at heart?  You might be and not even know it!

Sure, I’ve been parenting for 21 years (OMG!).  But I’m still learning when it comes to raising kids here in Israel.  Some of the lessons are harder than others to absorb, but here are 7 things that I have learned so far by watching the Israeli mamas around me.

Some of these might even help other mamas, outside of Israel, become better, more capable, kid-friendly parents.  Maybe you’re already an Israeli mama?

1) Kids are outside

Israeli apartments are SMALL.  That means the best place to play is outside.  Smart Israeli mamas send their kids outside the second they get home from school, almost year round. 

Just about every neighbourhood I've seen in this country has a decent playground, and most are far better than decent.  Playgrounds here are simply more fun, and provide better activities for a wider range of ages. 

In the summer, when outside can be dangerously hot all day long, kids play at night, often ridiculously late into the night.  I call them the "Vampire Children," but everybody here seems to think it's normal, simply because kids belong outside.

2) Kids do real work

From running to the makolet (convenience store) to buy milk and flour to taking care of younger siblings, Israeli parents expect their kids to do real work just as a matter of course. 

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Mega-Massive Chanukah 2015 Roundup: 17 FREE & More Essential Family Resources


Yes, Chanukah is sneaking up on us SOOoooon! It’s early this year, so I wanted to jump right in and share this list of resources that I’ve created and shared.  Some are geared towards homeschoolers, but most are great for any family to share.

Most are free, but my books (print & Kindle) and lapbooks are not. 

I hope you’ll check them all out!image  If you find something useful, leave a comment or share the link to this page to help others out.

FREE Resources & Ideas for Chanukah learning & fun for the whole family:

  1. Chanukah Family Song Book (with links to tunes!)
  2. Chanukah copywork and Activity Pack
  3. Chanukah Family Science Project:  Oil, Water, Fire & Ice
  4. “Parsha” Poem for Chanukah (to read aloud together)
  5. Menorah in a Box (original craft idea)
  6. Chodesh Kislev (craft idea)
  7. Melted Wax & Oil “stained glass” Painting (craft idea)
  8. Nine Cool Lessons in Chanukah Fun Colouring Book (by me, and it’s free to download!) (see more pictures & details on this page)
  9. Printable Chanukah colouring pages and activities (by my friend, illustrator Ann Koffsky)
  10. Chanukah picture-book reviews & recommendations (from my writers’ blog)

Books, Lapbook and MORE!

  1. No Santa!   – (chapter book) Miles has gone along with his parents’ growing interest in Jewish observance – until this year, when his mother declares that this is the year there will be “No Santa!”
  2. Now You Know: Hanukkah for Kids – a fun & user-friendly introduction to Chanukah.  Great for kids and families with little or no Jewish background, but with more than enough accuracy & detail for religious families as well.
  3. Jewish Festival of Lights Lapbook (here are some close-up pictures of the lapbook as completed).  Designed to work with Now You Know: Hanukkah for Kids, this lapbook is accurate and complete, and lots of fun for kids and families to learn through together.
  4. Around the Jewish Year: Jewish Calendar Lapbook – includes information about Chanukah along with all the other holidays and fascinating background information on the Jewish calendar itself.
  5. Chanukah Monsters – Incredibly cute monsters get a little too rambunctious around the candles.  Will they manage to avert disaster?
  6. One Chanukah Night – For slightly older kids: Sammy comes face-to-face with history and discovers his own connection with the stories of the Tanach.
  7. Four Little Jewish Holiday Books - An adorable collection of four mini-book readers, for toddlers or early readers, for four separate Jewish holidays:  Chanukah, Rosh Hashanah, Shavuot and… um, I forget which one?
  8. Laugh Out Loud Hanukkah – 100 of the funnest jokes out there, just for Chanukah!  (only 99 cents)

Here are links to some of my external resources.  I really hope these are helpful to you.  And as always, let me know what you’d like to see in the future!

Books (through Amazon/Kindle):


Lapbooks & More (through CurrClick):

Chanukah Lapbook Cover smallChanukah Family Booklet 2011 small coverTINYchanmoncolbook_coverJewish Year Lapbook CurrClick1
Happy, happy Chanukah!

Tzivia / צִיבְיָה

The Courage to Dream: Thoughts for Parshas Vayeishev (long but thorough!)


How many dreams does Yosef have in this week’s parsha?

I’ve always thought it was two. Maybe you did, too?

But if you look very carefully into the actual text, you’ll notice something funny. (Or, if you’re like me, you won’t – at least, not at first.)

Here’s how Yosef’s dreaming begins:


What’s the sequence here?

1. Yosef has a dream, tells his brothers, and they hate him more.

2. Yosef begs his brothers to hear his dream.

Huh? Didn’t they just hear him tell a dream? Of course they did, because the Torah says right there that hearing his dream made them hate him more.

After this, the Torah goes on:

3. Yosef tells his brothers a dream where they are gathering sheaves (wheat). This is often called his first dream.

(Is it really???)

4. Yosef tells his brothers a dream where the stars, moon and sun are bowing down to him. This is often called his second dream.

I’m sure you see the obvious question. What did Yosef tell his brothers in #1?

According to most interpretations, the Torah is being a little redundant here. The dream in #1 is the “first dream,” the one about the wheat sheaves. The story is just being drawn out for whatever reason.

But there is a minority opinion – of course.

According to the minority opinion, which is that of the Chizkuni but not many others, the first dream was a totally different dream.

The Chizkuni writes, “this dream is not mentioned because it did not come to pass.” (חלום זה לא נתקיים לפיכך לא נכתב)

Which dreams are fulfilled?

So according to the Chizkuni, this first dream didn’t come true. Therefore, it wasn’t worth mentioning (a weird retroactive kind of reasoning, but that’s the way it is with Hashem sometimes).

But this explanation leaves us with another question: Why didn’t it come true?

There is a tradition in Judaism that “The fulfillment of a dream depends on the way it is interpreted.” This actually comes straight from next week’s parsha, where it says,

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

7 tricks I’ve learned to conquer my fear of doing interviews


What’s the secret to my success as a writer?

(asks nobody, ever… I know, I know)

Actually, I would say I’m doing okay as a writer.  I’m writing more or less full-time these days, even if it’s not all the kind of writing I love to do.

Shifting identity

I don’t usually offer a peek behind the scenes into my writing life.  However, one of the big shifts of moving to Israel has been transitioning my own identity, from being a homeschooling stay-home mom to a full-time freelance writer.

Over the years, probably the biggest hurdle I’ve cleared as a writer is learning the art of interviewing.  I knew, starting out, that I couldn’t just sell my own words.  Interviews make almost any type of article better and more authoritative.

Why interview?  Being able to interview well opens the door to a richer, more successful writing career in a few ways:

  • You can cover more topics, with experts to make your articles fascinating and well-rounded.
  • You can create Q&As with well-known people in your community and beyond.
  • Even if you’re writing fiction, source interviews will give your stories solid depth and authenticity.

But here’s the thing:  I hate talking on the phone.

Just Pretend

If you’re anything like me, the thought of interviewing anybody fills you with fear – let alone somebody well-known.  To this day, picking up the phone (and nowadays, pulling on my headphones), still fills me with dread.

In her new book, Furiously Happy, Jenny Lawson shares some advice she received from writer Neil Gaiman, which says, “Pretend you’re good at it.”

Essentially, that’s what I’ve been doing over the years… except somewhere along the line, the word “pretend” dropped off and I found I really was doing the job.

And you know, it actually started to be kind of fun. 

Watching an interview with an expert on sex and disabilities, a guy in a wheelchair who happened to be Jewish, I thought of a million things I’d love to ask. I sold a Q&A to a Jewish paper in his area. I’d read a book and realize the author hadn’t explained something I wanted to know. I’d watch a TV show and discover that the host was going to be in town on a tour in a few weeks.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Why I never run up to people and shout hello (a small story)


I was standing alone in the playground during recess when I spotted my grandfather all the way across at the other entrance to the park. “Zaidy!” I screamed, and started running to meet him, arms out wide though he was not the hugging type.

What was he doing here? Maybe he was coming to take me out of school? Maybe he’d pop me in his car and he’d drive, jerky like usual, the way my brother thought was hilarious. He’d pretend he had a donkey in the trunk, and take me somewhere special, just the two of us.

“Zaidy, hi, Zaidy,” I called, waving my arms frantically. “It’s me, it’s Jennifer!” He did not turn. He could not see me.

My zeidy was a quiet man who didn’t talk much. “Ess gezinteheit,” he’d say when we sat down to eat. My father said it meant, “Eat in good health.” He was the only person I knew who said that. He drank coffee every Saturday morning out of a huge glass mug with PAT on the side, which was not his name. He’d stir it, stir it, ever so carefully, before silently taking a sip. The mug came from the “chute,” the trash where he worked as a caretaker.

I had seen him at his house, drinking coffee. I had seen him at our house, eating barbecued hot dogs in the backyard off my father’s tiny hibachi. I had seen him in Miami, once, drinking coffee in the sun. But I had never seen him at the park before.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

If this is Kislev (so soon?)… this must be the November Jewish Book Carnival!!!

Welcome, welcome!  Only 2 days late and perhaps (as I tediously always say), a couple dollars short.  My excuse?  I have none… just working.  Life on Israel time is so incredibly fast-paced.  I would never have believed that having an extra working day in the week could possibly mean I would feel MORE busy.  Weird how that works. 

So enough about that. 

This is my third time I’ve been lucky enough to host the Jewish Book Carnival, and I’ve received so many terrific submissions from folks who are passionate about Jewish books.  Even if you're not Jewish, you can step inside (okay, scroll inside) and find some great books and writers about books from all over the internet.  I hope you’ll discover a new favourite blog or book today.

What goes on in a Jewish book carnival?

Glad you asked! 

imageHere, you’ll find…

  • Reviews of Jewish books
  • Interviews with authors, illustrators, editors, publishers, librarians, etc. about Jewish literature
  • Reporting on Jewish literary events (or the Jewish angle at non-Jewish events)
  • Reflective essays related to Jewish literature, which may include reflections on the process of creating a specific title (this is the one instance in which authors/publshers might discuss one of their own books, in a meaningful and non-commercial way that serves a larger goal)

The Jewish Book Carnival also has a GoodReads page, for discussions and more. Whether or not you’re participating, we hope you’ll stop by, join and take part!

If you want to host a future Jewish book carnival on your blog (and who wouldn’t?!?), contact Heidi at heidi@cbiboca.org.

And now… for the good stuff: 

The posts!

To start us off, Jill at Rhapsody in Books reviewed "The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach" by Pam Jenoff (book link here), a story about what befalls a young Italian Jewish immigrant Adelia (“Addie”) Montforte who arrived in America in 1941, having been sent by her parents to take refuge from the Germans.

Day of Blessings: a fun new book about Jewish prayer


Why wait until kids are older to start explaining the ideas behind Jewish prayers?  I created this book to share a new approach: explaining the series of brachos (brachot = prayers) we say each morning in a way that was clear and kid-friendly, not to mention fun. 

Don’t you love these little wooden dolls??? 

They’re doing something different on every single page of the book!  They’re a great way to get the point across in a way kids can relate to.

What you’ll find inside:

  • Full Hebrew text (with vowels!) of the 15 morning brachot (blessings)
  • Easy-to-read new English translations
  • Light rhyming verses to communicate core concepts
  • Fun, lively illustrations highlighting one key idea behind each bracha
  • Available in Print or Ebook form (Kindle, unlocked and convertible to Epub or any other form you like for reading on screen or device)

Check out the back cover of the book, along with a few sample spreads from inside:






Honestly, I want to share the whole thing with you – but the best way for me to do that is to send you over to Amazon where for the month of November (2015) only, you can buy the Kindle version for an introductory, new-release price of 99 cents.  It’s free to borrow if you have Kindle Unlimited, and as with all my books, the ebook is always free with purchase of the print edition.

I invite you to check it out over here:  Day of Blessings: Traditional Jewish Morning Blessings in Rhyme.

Tzivia / צִיבְיָה

Sunday, November 01, 2015

What does it mean when Hashem makes a promise? Thoughts for Chayei Sarah


Over the last 3 parshiyos since we first encountered the personality of Avraham Avinu, we've seen Hashem making two distinct promises to him: ארץ/eretz and זרע/zera, the land and the offspring. Hashem makes these promises not once, not twice, but... FIVE SEPARATE TIMES.

Yet in each of these three parshiyos, we've repeatedly seen the future of these two promises called into doubt.

Last week, with Hashem's call to kill Yitzchak at the akeida, for instance (a friend pointed out that Hashem didn’t say to kill Yitzchak, but rather to take him up – fair point, but since they brought along wood and a knife, I have to believe that one or both of them probably figured there would be killing going on).

In this week's parsha, there are two themes that threaten those promises: the haggling with Efron over the cave and the desperate search for a wife for a middle-aged, pining-over-Sara Yitzchak.

Now, keep in mind that I’m coming at this story as a writer. 

From the perspective of a writer, it’s lousy if your audience knows the ending ahead of time (or think they do), because you want to be able to throw twists and turns at them. You want to be able to surprise them.

Unfortunately, we’ve been reading the Torah so long, year after year, we think we’re immune to surprises.

Also, it’s written in a way that the surprises aren’t so obvious.  If this was being written today, you'd want to show all the suspense, because there surely is a lot of suspense in this parsha.

To begin with, what’s going to happen with Efron, with the land?  Why is it such a big “balagan” (as we say here in Israel) to begin with?

Good question.

We have to realize that we’re not just talking about any old cave here – this is an inheritance that Avraham will pass along for all the generations. We know this is an important patch of land because we still have it – and cherish it – to this day.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Once upon a time, in Bnei Brak …


Once upon a time, there were two brothers.

Except they weren't really brothers, were they?

No, they were half brothers.

And one hated Judaism.

Yes, he did. 

So much.  So, so much.

Well, okay, don't get me wrong.  He was proud to be a Jew.

But he hated... Judaism.

Kind of, yeah.

And the other brother?


Yes, him.

He came to Israel.  He lived it.  It's a simple story, really.

Is it?

Yes.  He came to Israel after the war, he had three children here, they had children, and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, without end.  Ayn sof.

And the other brother?


Yup.  Where did he go?


Did he have children?

Oh, yes.  Actually, he also had three.

Did they have children?

Yes, seven of them.  He had seven grandchildren.  Five great-grandchildren.

Are they Jewish?

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Star (and Dust) Trek: Thoughts for Parshas Lech Lecha

In this week's parsha, Lech Lecha, Hashem says he'll make Avram's descendents like stars.  We often crow about this – “We're so great,” we say.  “We're just like stars.” 

And no wonder.  We get off to a roaring start this week.  You’ll forgive me if I’m thinking about outer space – I just saw the movie The Martian last night, and I think stars are totally awesome right now.

But so – obviously – does Hashem.

Yet that isn’t the most mindblowing thing about this week’s parsha.  It opens with the most promising beginning, of any story ever told.  Hollywood has nothing on this.

Listen to this:  Hashem takes a homeless guy.  Literally.  He’s just been evicted, because he refused to follow the local religion in Ur-Kasdim, where he grew up.  He’s not a young guy, either.  He’s very, very old, and so’s his wife.  They have no children.

So Hashem takes this homeless, barren man and makes the two biggest promises of history.  “You’re going to have a land; not just any land, but the best land ever, the centre of the universe.  Oh, and you’re going to have children – lots and lots of children.”

Really makes you sit up and listen, doesn’t it?

So listen to this, too, while I’ve got you here:  Hashem also says he'll make Avram's descendents like the dust of the earth.  Um, okay.  Now that’s a bit of a comedown.  Who wants to be like dust?  That's totally not worth much.

But here's the thing the Baal Shem Tov taught us about stars:

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Freelance writing lessons learned in the Fiverr trenches


One of the great things about the Modern Era is that you can work as a writer in English from anywhere in the world. 

The downside is working for a range of clients, all over the world, some of whom – you’d swear – are the laziest human beings that could exist on the planet.

If Hashem made them any lazier, they’d simply stop breathing.  Don’t believe me?  Don’t worry; I came prepared with examples.

In case you haven’t made its acquaintance yet, Fiverr is a site that connects freelancers and clients around the world.  The premise is simple:  what would you do for five bucks?  In my case, I’ll write 300 words for 5 bucks.

Heck, I can write 300 words before I actually start to think about what I’m going to say.  I’ve written 300 words already in this blog post – and I’m just getting started.  (Okay, that’s only 156, but hey, I’m halfway there already.)

But on Fiverr, that $5 is just the BOTTOM LINE.  From there, you can charge extra for research, longer pieces, rush orders, those kinds of things.  Sure, there are some people who only want to spend the $5.  But most end up spending more.

However, like I said, this kind of global marketplace brings you in contact every single day with some of the must frustratingly underdeveloped creatures Hashem has seen fit to put here on this earth.

Here are some of the lowlights – the most annoying things people have told me as they're trying to underpay me to do their work for them:

i would for sure give you alot of business TRUST ME LOL. I have papers needed to be done on the daily!

This is probably the most common line, in one form or another. 

Potential customers say this to try to win a lowball price.  Which makes me think, "why the heck would I do this for cheap week after week after week?" 

As far as I’m concerned, this is actually a DIS-incentive if there ever was one.  Regular business doesn't help me unless I’m actually making money off it.

the job is going to be easy. there is no research.

Well, if that's the case - if it really is totally easy... then why not do it yourself?  Oh, yeah, you're too busy and important.  Do me a favour; take a deep breath.  Just in case you forgot.

at the end u can say you learned a lot and had fun and i can say we broke the ice and are partners

Sunday, August 02, 2015

The fish, the diamonds, and me, here in Canada


Here in our last 24 hours in Toronto, I am living out the mashal of the fish and the diamonds.

Maybe you've heard this mashal (parable)?  For sure, my kids have: many, many times.

In the story, a man leaves his home, somewhere normal in Europe, and sets sail to seek his fortune in some exotic island, perhaps near Africa, where it is rumoured that the streets are paved with diamonds.

He arrives at the island, and discovers that the rumours are TRUE.  Diamonds are everywhere!  He scoops them up to fill his pockets and rushes into a restaurant to order a lunch fit for a king. 

Of course, he discovers when he goes to pay with the diamonds at the end of the meal, that they are utterly worthless on the island.  What the restaurant wants in payment is... fish.  Bleakly, he wanders from store to store, discovering that the only currency anyone will accept is fish.

(Don't ask why; this is not the most realistic story, okay?)

So, okay.  The guy stashes the diamonds in his pocket and forgets about them.  He sets to work accumulating fish to pay for his expensive passage back home.  It takes years of backbreaking work, shlepping to the harbour every day over roads paved in diamonds.  Eventually, he's got enough fish saved up to buy a ship and outfit it for the journey.

Then, he waves goodbye to his new friends on the island, hops on board the ship and sets sail for home.

When he arrives back at his village, he is greeted as a hero.  "I have returned a wealthy man!" he announces. 

He then opens the hold beneath the ship and out splashes a stinking, sloshing load of... fish.  His perplexed family and friends stare at the mess on the dock and then recoil in horror.  "What have you brought us?"

"Um, fish?"

Thursday, July 23, 2015

"Pour out my heart like water" – thoughts for Tisha b’Av 5775


Sitting here in Toronto, the big difference between Israel and the world I grew up in is obvious.  I heard this in a shiur yesterday from Rabbanit Chana Henkin, who said, "There's nothing like water to emphasize the difference between inside and outside Israel."

Toronto, in particular, is a deliciously watery place.  Perched on the brink of Lake Ontario, nestled between two (kinda, used-to-be) mighty rivers. 


The water here makes me happy.  Sort of.

But you know where else had a lot of water?

Babylon.  (Again, this is not my idea, it’s Rabbanit Henkin’s; I just wrote it down.)

Friday, July 10, 2015

Why Jewish reincarnation matters (even if you don’t believe in reincarnation) - a dvar Torah for Parshas Pinchas


Do you know what Judaism teaches about reincarnation? Many people are surprised to hear that this is even part of our worldview.

I read on Chabad.org that the reason we aren’t aware of previous incarnations is because if we were, we wouldn’t be able to have complete free will.

Because of this, learning what Judaism teaches about reincarnation might seem useless, since it has no practical benefit. Also, there’s an idea that these mystical concepts can easily be misunderstood, or carried to misleading conclusions. That, it said, was “why this and similar subjects are only hinted at in scripture.”

So what does this all have to do with this week’s parsha?

Everything. Because those hints are there, once you start looking for them.

This week’s parsha starts with a throwback to last week’s parsha. The parsha is actually named after a guy who did a really brave but slightly shocking thing in last week’s parsha. His name is Pinchas, and he killed a man named Zimri.


Who the heck are these people?

Pinchas appears first, and the parsha is named after him. He was the son of Eleazar, the son of Aharon who became kohein gadol (high priest) in last week’s parsha. Aharon, of course, was a descendent of the tribe of Levi.

The man he killed was Zimri, the son of Salu, and he was from the tribe of Shimon. In fact, to be entirely accurate, he was the leader of the tribe of Shimon. A pretty important guy.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Parshas Chukas: Why you need darkness to feel the light


Have you ever wondered what it's like to be blind?

Picture yourself in a world of darkness, groping around, not knowing where - or what - anything is. 

Last month, I got to go to the Dialogue in the Dark exhibit at the Israel Children's Museum in Holon.  You're immersed in a darkness so intense you can't see even the outlines of the other people in the room.

Our blind superhero

You're lost in a hopeless, unsolvable maze.  Are you near a wall, a door?  Are you about to bump into something?  Your only hope is to trust in the skills of your guide, an all-seeing miracle worker who can somehow navigate her way through total darkness.

Our guide was Michal.  Michal is blind, but there, in the dark, she was strong.  She knew her way around better than the back of her hand.  She memorized our names and called them out throughout the tour to make sure we didn't get lost.  She warned us about obstacles and coached us to "look" around ourselves with fingers and hands.

In the dark, Michal was strong, and we were fully dependent on her to get out of the maze alive - or at least, within the promised hour.

After the one-hour tour, we finally "met" Michal in the light.  She was shorter than most of us had pictured.  Smaller, too.  In the dark, she'd seemed like a superhero, but there in the light, she was just a little blind woman with a cane.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Parshas Shlach: Facebook & the meraglim, what are you hiding?


Maybe you think this is the age of “let it all hang out,” when Google rules, your friends post their snacks on Facebook, and there are no secrets left in the world.

Believe me, there are still plenty of secrets. And this bold new world may have more in common with the world of the Torah than we’d like to believe, as this week’s parsha, Shlach, shows us.

That’s because what we share on Facebook and other social media is only a redacted version of our true selves. 

This isn’t a bad thing, but we tend to forget.  And then, we envy other people’s lives, just the way the Aseres Hadibros tell us we shouldn’t. 

If you’ve ever looked at a friend’s Facebook status and wished that was your life, you know what I’m talking about.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Where I disagree

NOTE: One year after my brother Eli's death in 2014, I published a book about the intertwining of our lives and his struggle with schizophrenia. This post and many other writings are included, in slightly different form, in that book.
Please wait until the ride has come to a full and complete stop is now available in print and Kindle editions.

Through laughter and tears, I invite you to come share my final journey with my brother.

In light of the school shooting on Friday in Connecticut, a mother named Liza Long has released a heartfelt article saying, “I am sharing this story because I am Adam Lanza's [Friday’s shooter’s] mother. I am Dylan Klebold's and Eric Harris's mother. I am Jason Holmes's mother. I am Jared Loughner's mother. I am Seung-Hui Cho's mother. And these boys—and their mothers—need help. In the wake of another horrific national tragedy, it's easy to talk about guns. But it's time to talk about mental illness.”

She says something I agree with wholeheartedly:  “it seems like the United States is using prison as the solution of choice for mentally ill people.”  Canada, too.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Ancient Auction Secret: If Chinese auctions are racist, why do Jews love them so much?

Ah, Jews, Jews, Jews, Jews.  You sure do love your Chinese auctions, don’t you?

It seems that even in an era of political correctness, within certain circles, this term just will not die.
And frankly, I’m mortified.

I’m not Chinese, but I have family who is Chinese.  Some are Korean, as well.  I guess this makes us more ethnically diverse than many Jews, but I suspect most Jewish families are moving in this direction.  Still.  Even if we don’t know a single Chinese person, we should still stop calling it that.

First of all… is it actually racist to call it a Chinese auction?

I figured I’d let Chinese people decide.  But when I turned to Google to find out how Chinese people feel about Chinese auctions, what I found was mostly… nothing.  Silence. 

I did find some debate (presumably among non-Chinese people) over whether it was too far in the direction of political correctness to refer to these as a “silent auction” or (as in some parts of the States) a “tricky tray.”  (Okay, that’s just weird.)

One guy reacted by saying, “You say something ‘Politically Incorrect’ and people look at you in horror as though you just killed a kitten.”

However, another person on the same thread said, “the term is tied up with a lot of other negative characterizations of Asian culture as being mystical in contrast to Western culture being rational.”

That’s my understanding as well – that Chinese people (and Asians in general) were assumed to be sneaky characters, always hiding something.  Hence the racist “ancient Chinese secret” TV commercial (see the video below).

This discussion on a Jewish site yielded absolutely no philosophical depth whatsoever.  When asked if it was racist, the first guy just said, “No.”  Another volleyed back by asking if a Dutch Auction is racist.  (I had never heard of this, but apparently, it’s mainly an investment thing.)

Here’s the thing.

While “Chinese Auctions” may have once been common, today, many English speakers outside the religious Jewish community don’t even know what these are.  That’s because almost everybody calls them something else these days.  Meaningless political correctness or not, they have moved on and nobody really minds all that much.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Visiting a synagogue for the very first time? 5 things you MUST know.

Maybe you’re invited for a Bar or Bat Mitzvah.  Maybe you’re drawn to Judaism and want to find out more.  Or maybe you just want to support a Jewish friend or family member?

Whatever the reason, if you don’t know an alef from a bet (those are letters!), you might be wondering about going to synagogue and what you might see there… especially if you’re bringing kids with you. 

Here are 5 important guidelines that’ll help you get grounded.  They’re adapted from my new book, Now You Know:  Rosh Hashanah for Kids, on sale for 99 cents until the end of June.

The least you should know:

  1. Most synagogues ask men and boys to cover their heads, using a yarmulke (kippah) or some other type of hat. (Do this even if you’re not Jewish.)
  2. Girls and women should dress modestly, wearing skirts that fall below the knee.
  3. Most Jewish men wear a tallit - a striped white shawl that covers their shoulders. (In some communities, only married men wear a tallit.) Some synagogues provide these near the entrance, but don’t wear one if you’re not Jewish.
  4. Ask someone to show you in the siddur (prayer book) where in the service you are.  (Everyone gets lost sometimes!)
  5. Look around to make sure you’re standing and sitting at the appropriate times. (Hint: stand up when the Holy Ark is open.)

Holy Ark?  What’s that???  More stuff you might want to know.

Most people who visit a synagogue for the first time say it looks very much like a church or any other place that they have seen people praying.  The main prayer area of a synagogue is called the “sanctuary.”
You’ll see two things when you walk into the sanctuary that you might not see anywhere else:

  • Eternal Lamp - ner tamid - most synagogues have a lamp or light near the front that stays lit either all the time or whenever the synagogue is being used.
  • Holy Ark - aron kodesh - this is a “closet” near the front of the synagogue where the Torah scrolls are stored. It is usually covered with a velvet curtain with fancy decorations. (In most synagogues, when the Ark is opened, everybody stands, out of respect.)

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Jews and Jobs: MAMALAND REVIEW of Can I Wear My Kippah on Job Interviews?: Career Guidance for Sabbath Observant Jewish Professionals, by Lavie and Rachel Margolin

Can I wear my kippah on Job interviews, by Lavie Margolin & Rachel Margolin

Should you wear a kippah to your job interview? Well, yes.  In the year 2015, except in some places in the world (most of which don’t speak English), if you're a person who wears a kippah, you shouldn't NOT wear it if you're going to a job interview.  I mean, who would do that?

When I saw a book called Can I Wear My Kippah on Job Interviews?: Career Guidance for Sabbath Observant Jewish Professionals from two authors who have built a business creating business- and employment-consulting books, it caught my attention right away (which I think is the point of the title).  I eagerly requested a review copy, and the author, Lavie Margolin sent one along.

First of all, the book isn’t really about wearing a kippah or not.

I quickly came to the conclusion that the cover question is mainly an attention-getting trick.  The Margolins never advise removing your kippah for a job interview – perhaps because they know that that would alienate too many readers. 

(At one point, the book even mentions wearing a kippah or headcovering specifically for an interview or at a job, even if you don’t normally wear one, if it will make you more comfortable or better accepted working in a religious setting like a school or shul.)

The title sure does make a splash, though.  When I mentioned the book on facebook, one person simply saw the title and replied “OF COURSE! ARE YOU ASHAMED OF BEING JEWISH?”  Others were more calm, but immediately pointed out the inconsistency, with a few saying something along the lines of “it would be dishonest to present oneself as non-religious and then make any religious demands of the employer once hired.”

Someone suggested that “It doesn't have to all come out in the first meeting, but probably at some point in the interviewing/hiring process,” which is exactly the line taken by the authors of this book, who discuss at which point in the hiring stage it’s best to ask for Shabbat and holidays off.

So if the book isn’t just about whether or not to wear a kippah to a job interview, what is it about?

Sunday, May 17, 2015

True confessions of a (Jewish) mama sea turtle


Let me tell you a thing you might already know about sea turtles:  they live in the sea.

Obvious, right? 

Except the one time a sea turtle comes out of the sea is a female turtle, when she’s ready to lay eggs.  She crawls up onto land, digs a pit and lays her eggs there.  Then, it’s back into the sea with her.

So what happens to the eggs? 

They need a miracle, that’s what. 

When they hatch, the baby turtles are on their own.  They need a mad dash to the sea to get themselves covered and protected by the water before Very Bad Things can happen.  Bad things like predators.  Like dehydration.

Because they are sea turtles, they can only survive in the sea. 

But their eggs can only incubate on land. 

So the mad dash is inevitable – it is essential for their own survival.

This is like us, as Jewish mothers.  (Hint:  the water, as always, is Torah.)

I met a young couple once who'd adopted a baby from China.  I was waiting for my husband, who was meeting with the bais din for his conversion.  The couple was waiting to meet with bais din, too.  They were in the process of converting their baby, they told me.  They were naming her Miriam.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Jewish Books for Kids: Less is More


Maybe I’m still a homeschooler at heart?

(Are you one, too?)

When I asked for feedback about the book I’m currently working on, Elephant Tisha b’Av, I got a ton of helpful comments. 

Sure, some were a little LESS than helpful, like one person who didn’t think we should be observing Tisha b’Av at all:  “In my opinion it is time to stop mourning the past.” 

But others gave me fantastic inspiration.  More people liked the idea but asked for more about the elephants themselves, and I realized I’d jumped right into the “sad memories” part without showing how magnificant and fun these creatures are in their own right.  Some felt the connection wasn’t clear between the elephants and the observance of Tisha b’Av, and I did my best to tighten up that link so it’s clear without being smack-on-the-forehead obvious.  I like a little subtlety.

A lot of people wonder why I'm doing these animal books at all. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

What do otters have to do with Pesach? (aka Passover)

image from Otter Passover, by Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod

What do otters have to do with Pesach?

Nothing, right?

Otters have absolutely nothing to do with Pesach.  Then again, pandas have nothing to do with Purim.  And penguins… well, totally not Rosh Hashanah critters.  And my best most popular book on Amazon right now (yes, even in March) is a little story called Penguin Rosh Hashanah.

It was tough thinking of a follow-up, though the first one, Panda Purim, came fairly easily. 

My husband figured I should try to find a connection between the animal and the yom tov.  Okay, actually, he suggested Cow Shavuos.  I told him if he wanted to read a story about cows on Shavuos, he could write it himself.  It just didn’t interest me.  Too obvious!

At last… after trying to find an animal that was cute but not cloyingly so, I came across this adorable otter.  And thus, Otter Passover was born.

Penguin Rosh Hashanah, by Jennifer Tzivia MacLeodPanda Purim, by Jennifer Tzivia MacLeodOtter Passover, by Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod  

The thing is, even if the title is incongruous, I wanted a story that made sense.  And I wanted to bring in genuine elements of Torah and Jewish belief without teaching the basics of what Pesach is, which I usually steer away from. 

Somebody actually complained about this in a one-star review of Penguin Rosh Hashanah.  She wrote, “It left me wandering what Rosh Hashana was about.”

Why don’t I want to teach what the holiday “is about”? 

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Jewish Defense League – why they don’t speak for me (or you?).


I just got flamed on Facebook – now that’s something that doesn’t happen often.

(My life’s pretty boring, I guess.)

But when I saw this story in a Facebook group, about the Jewish Defense League setting up shop in Montreal, I mentioned that I found their tactics "disgusting."


JDL marshals at the Sephardic Kehila Centre in Toronto, September 24, 2014 (photo credit: JDL Canada website)

(photo credit:  JDL Canada website)

Apparently, it was the wrong thing to say.

Apparently, for criticizing those who hate the haters, I become hated myself.


I was attacked on all sides by my fellow Jews who offered such threats as:

  • "Wait until one of the savages comes after your kids and delivers their heads on platters to your front door,"
  • "[you are] the poor little Jew who skips into the cattle car excited to get to the spacious work camps," and
  • "[you] to Nazi officer: "Sir, which cattle car door should I use?'",
  • "[you] portrait of a Jewish lemming."

These comments tell me everything I need to know about the JDL, its supporters and their tactics – today and in the past.


Bloody track record

The JDL Canada website proudly brags about how they helped arrest Canadian Holocaust denier Nazi Ernst Zundel.  They should be proud.  But they don’t mention that they also tried to burn down and bomb his house.  They don’t mention Baruch Goldstein, a JDL member who murdered 29 praying Muslims.  Or many other JDL-initiated murders and murder attempts over the years.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Daddy and the Zhlub: Should baalei teshuvah be ashamed of their families?


I used to resent my parents for not being religious.

(Mommy, if you're reading this, keep going - there's a happy ending.)

It was a baal teshuvah thing.  One of those not-nice things they don't tell you about in the rosey-coloured-glasses books about being a baal teshuvah. 

Do we all (all of us crazy BT’s) resent our parents because they're not frum?  At the time, I thought it was resentment, but now, I think it was more like shame.

Are we, as BT’s, ashamed that our parents didn’t give us the advantages of a day school education?  That they didn’t teach us to keep milk and meat dishes separate?  That they sent us to inadequate Hebrew schools that taught us only to resent our Jewish identity and the loss of a sleep-in on Sunday?

I’ll admit it:  I was.

(If you weren’t, then you’re a better BT than me!)

I did my best to make up for lost time, in part by pretending my parents didn’t exist.  And I think I wasn’t the only one.  I think that the frum world encouraged us to turn our backs on where we’d come from.  My husband was a geir, so in his case, the feeling was less subtle, but even with my own Jewish family, we got the message on every side that we would have to make a clean break, a fresh start.

I remember telling someone about my Nanny once, after I’d become frum.  She was a devout Presbyterian and took care of our Jewish family for over 60 years.  For Nanny, there was no contradiction in this.  She loved her own faith, and she loved ours as well.  (That was Nanny; she could love everybody.)

And the person I was telling said, “Well, you never know.  Maybe she was secretly serving you non-kosher food.” (I didn’t bother explaining that there would have been no point bringing in non-kosher food… coals to Newcastle, as they say.) “…Or trying to get you to convert.  Unless they’re Jewish, you really never know.”

Believe me, I know.  With Nanny, you knew where you stood.

But I got so many variations on that message that I couldn’t help absorbing it.  Unless they’re Jewish, the right kind of Jewish, Jewish like us, they’re simply not part of what you’re doing in your life now.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Sydney Taylor Award 2015 BLOG TOUR: Goldie Takes a Stand, with Barbara Krasner and Kelsey Garrity-Riley


Welcome to the SYDNEY TAYLOR BOOK AWARD 2015 BLOG TOUR, hosted by the Association of Jewish Libraries, in which authors and illustrators of new books share their stories with the world.  The book tour is going on all this week, with tons of great new Jewish kids’ books to discover.  Dig up all the details, including a schedule of events, over here.

So what’s this all about Goldie?

If you know anything about Golda Meir, you’ll know that she was one tough cookie, even before she became Israel’s fourth Prime Minister, and the first woman (and to date, the only woman) to serve in the role.  But you may not know much more than that.

I was surprised when I first heard a recording of her speaking perfect English; I’d assumed that she was either born Israeli (rare in those days) or obscurely European. 

I had no idea that, although born in 1898 in Kiev (today, in Ukraine, but then part of the Russian Empire), Meir grew up in the heartland of the U.S., in Milwaukee.  Now, English-speaking kids have a rare chance to find out more than most adults about one of Israel’s most beloved leaders with a new book by children’s author Barbara Krasner:  Goldie Takes a Stand (Kar-Ben Publishing:  2014).

The Association of Jewish Libraries namedGoldie Takes a Stand, by Barbara Krasner Goldie Takes a Stand as one of six Sydney Taylor Honor Books for 2015, and I was excited to have the chance to interview Krasner, along with illustrator Kelsey Garrity-Riley, about the book.

Before I had a chance to get to that, though, I asked Naomi Rivka (age 9) to tell me what she thought of the book.  “I like it a lot.  Like, ten stars out of five.”  (I think she may have been exaggerating a little!)

What’s the story about? (a kid’s perspective)

I didn’t want to let her get away with such a vague review, however, so I asked her to tell me what she liked.  I was pretty impressed with what she remembered of the story: 

“It has an interesting story about helping the poor.  It tells you that she was a great tzadekes and she had to help the poor.  It was her job and if she didn’t do it, who else was going to do it?  So she set up a group of girls to buy books for poor people.  If the poor people got the books, they would be very happy.  So Goldie thought she would help the poor so much and make them happy, so that they can learn what they need to learn and they don’t have to just sit there bored.”

(I guess all those years of homeschool narration have sort of paid off after all, even if she isn’t using it at school.)

author Barbara Krasner Interview with the author, Barbara Krasner

Barbara has written so many Jewish kids’ books.  I actually just had a chance to flip through another new one, Liesl’s Ocean Rescue (Gihon River Press: 2014), when I met with its illustrator, Avi Katz, at the Jerusalem Book Fair on Monday. 

Here’s my Q&A with Barbara, to tell you a little about the process of creating Goldie Takes a Stand.

Q:  I love the idea of a story about a Jewish role model acting as a role model and community leader even as a child.  How did you come across this story?